A Work That Will Be Completed
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.(Psalm 94:12)
Fortunately God doesn’t ask us how or when we want to grow. He’s the Master Teacher, training His pupils when and how He deems best. He is, in the words of Jesus, the Gardener who prunes the branches of His vineyard. The healthy vine requires both nourishing and pruning. Through the Word of God, we are nourished(Psalm 1:2-3), but through adversity we are pruned. Both the Hebrew and Greek languages express discipline and teaching by the same word. God intends that we grow through the discipline of adversity as well as through instruction from His Word.
One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible is Philippians 1:6: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He will not fail to finish the work He has begun in us, He’s committed to “working in us that which is pleasing in His sight” (Hebrews 13:21). As Horatius Bonar wrote, “God’s treatment must succeed. It cannot miscarry or be frustrated even in its most arduous efforts, even in reference to its minutest objects. It is the mighty power of God that is at work within us and upon us, and this is our consolation….All is love, all is wisdom, and all is faithfulness, yet all is also power.’
That God cannot fail in His purpose for adversity in our lives, that He will accomplish that which He intends, is a great encouragement to me. Sometimes I do fail to respond to difficulties in a God-honoring way. But my failure does not mean God has failed. Even my painfully sharp awareness of failure may be used of God, for example, to help me grow in humility. And perhaps that was God’s intention all along.
As Jesus was teaching the disciples about the nourishing and the pruning of the vines, especially the pruning, I’m sure that they passed it over. Yet, it was especially in the days leading up to the cross that they would experience the pruning of adversity. Not that they had experienced no adversity during their following of Christ. Scripture tells us that when Jesus heard the news of Lazarus and was preparing to go to Bethany, the disciples were aware of the danger.
So [even] when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed in the same place two more days. Then He said to His disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi (Teacher), the Jews were only recently going to stone You, and You are [thinking of] going back there again?”
They had experienced the danger of storms on at least two occasions, one by themselves until Jesus came walking on the sea and the other with Him asleep in the boat.
But this week would be different. During this week the adversity they would face would be the trial of their hearts. We see during this week the inner struggles being exposed. Through their adversity, they would discover their dependence on Christ and in the following days it would become obvious that God had worked a powerful work in their hearts. In the Gospel of Mark we find that the two brothers, James and John were contending for seats on the left and right side of Christ when He established His kingdom. So their desire for power and position came to the surface and its exposure brought it to be pruned.
“James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He replied to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit [with You], one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory [Your majesty and splendor in Your kingdom].” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism [of suffering and death] with which I am baptized?” And they replied to Him, “We are able.” Jesus told them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared [by My Father].” Hearing this, the [other] ten became indignant with James and John.”
Peter, who was given the great revelation that Christ was the Son of the Living God had made his boast that he would never forsake Christ, no matter what.
“Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away [and be ashamed and be afraid to be associated with Me as disciples], because it is written, ‘I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ 28 But after I have been raised [from the dead], I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even if they all fall away [and desert You, ashamed and afraid of being associated with You], yet I will not [do so]!” Jesus said to him, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you will deny [that you even know] Me three times.” But Peter kept saying insistently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all were saying the same thing as well.”
In the test of adversity we find that they all failed, but God’s work was not yet complete in them. From the ashes of their failures came men of faith, boldness and power that rocked their world. From the brokenness of pruning came a great abundance of fruit. The wisdom of the Father and His great love is evident in the lives of the disciples. And this evident love and wisdom is and will be evident in our lives. The pruning of adversity will result in the fruitfulness of faith and renewed strength.
“And at once, while He was still speaking, Judas [Iscariot], one of the twelve [disciples], came up, and with him a crowd of men with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders [of the Sanhedrin]. Then all of His disciples abandoned Him and fled. While Peter was down below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, and when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked intently at him and said, “You were with Jesus the Nazarene, too.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” Then he went out [of the courtyard] to the porch, [and a rooster crowed.] The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to tell the bystanders, “This [man] is one of them.” But again he denied it. After a little while, the bystanders again said to Peter, “You are in fact one of them, for [it is clear from your accent, that] you are a Galilean, too.” But he began to invoke a curse [on himself] and to swear [an oath], “I do not know this man you are talking about!” Immediately a rooster crowed the second time. And Peter remembered what Jesus said to him: “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And thinking of this, he began weeping [in anguish].”
One might assume that this was the end. After all the colossal failure of the disciples and the crucifixion of Christ seemed to signal it. But God was still working, for in the crucifixion of Christ-the pruning-God was at work providing redemption for mankind. He was at work in the disciples, for by bringing them to the end of themselves, He was preparing them to live and work through His power. And this is the object of pruning through adversity. The pruning is designed to bring us to the end of our strength and resources until at last we place our full trust in Christ alone. The pre-resurrection story is one of pain, sorrow, failure and hopelessness. The post-resurrection story is one of joy, hope and renewal.
“So when it was evening on that same day, the first day of the week, though the disciples were [meeting] behind barred doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “[i]Peace to you.” After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with great joy. Eight days later His disciples were again inside the house, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, though the doors had been barred, and stood among them and said, “Peace to you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not be unbelieving, but [stop doubting and] believe.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, do you now believe? Blessed [happy, spiritually secure, and favored by God] are they who did not see [Me] and yet believed [in Me].” After this Jesus revealed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). And He did it in this way: Simon Peter, and Thomas who is called Didymus (the twin), and Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, as well as [John and James] the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said, “And we are coming with you.” So they went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do—with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Again He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you [really] love Me [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend]?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
Thomas the doubter becomes Thomas the believer. Peter the denier becomes Peter the proclaimer . James and John the promoters of self become the servants of God and the church. The fearful disciples who ran and hid become bold people of faith.
When God finishes His work in us we all become what He designs us to be. If you’re facing the fire of adversity remember that you are loved by your Father and everything He allows in your life, even adversity, is to grow you in your faith and to build you up for His purposes. The pruning is painful, but the fruit is bountiful. The lack of pruning produces the lack of fruit. So the Master Gardener lovingly cuts away the excess so we may enjoy the incredible fruit of His Spirit.
“It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”
Dr. John Thompson